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Sarah: Sir Winston Churchill's Actress Daughter

Sir Winston Churchill's daughter Sarah was an acclaimed actress. Her life had highs and lows that could have been from a book or movie.

Sarah Churchill in 1966.

Sarah Churchill in 1966.

Daughter of the Churchill Dynasty

The name Churchill tends to bring just one person to mind: Sir Winston Churchill (1874-1965), renegade British politician, writer, historian, and cigar brandishing Prime Minister during World War Two.

Yet, several of his ancestors have been acclaimed. Winston's role model Sir John Churchill (1667-1714) was a soldier rewarded by the Stuart Queen Anne with Blenheim Palace and the title of the 1st Duke of Marlborough. His wife Sarah (1660-1744), the Duchess of Marlborough, was the first female Keeper of the Privy Purse in British history and one of the richest women in Europe.

The Churchill Children

Like his ancestors, Winston's children achieved noteworthy success in their own right. Randolph, the oldest male and second oldest child, followed in his father's footsteps and turned to politics as a career, so did his son, Winston, obviously named after his famous grandfather. Meanwhile, Sarah, the second oldest daughter and middle of five children, achieved fame as a dancer and actress, often cast in musical comedies and melodramas.

Being Winston Churchill's formidable and intelligent daughter offered her little protection from the controversies that shadowed her life. An elopement and show business marriage, divorce, tragedies, substance abuse, and a short stay in Holloway Prison are frequently remembered more than her three decade long acting career in Britain and the U.S.

Winston and Clemmie Churchill (nee Hozier) in 1908

Winston and Clemmie Churchill (nee Hozier) in 1908

Sarah Churchill's Childhood

Winston married Clementine "Clemmie" Hozier in 1908 and their first child Diana arrived in 1909, Randolph was born in 1911. On October 7, 1914, two months into the First World War when her father was the First Lord of the Admiralty, Sarah was born at Admiralty House in London. She was named Sarah Millicent Hermione Spencer-Churchill after her illustrious ancestor Sarah, 1st Duchess of Marlborough. Sisters Marigold (1918) and Mary (1922) arrived later, with Marigold dying tragically at age three from septicemia.

Sarah followed Diana to Notting Hill High School in London and then attended the North Foreland Lodge in Kent, an independent boarding school. Diana attended R.A.D.A., The Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts, although she was not interested in performing. Sarah enrolled at the De Vos School of Dance and studied ballet for two years.

Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer on Budget Day 1929. Clemmie, Sarah and Randolph Churchill are to Winston's right.

Winston Churchill, Chancellor of the Exchequer on Budget Day 1929. Clemmie, Sarah and Randolph Churchill are to Winston's right.

Sarah's Professional Acting Debut

Sarah Churchill made her professional debut at the age of 21 at Adelphi Theatre in London with Winston and Clemmie's consent. It was a chorus line role in Follow the Star. She was soon spotted by the star of the show, entertainer Vic Oliver.

Winston and Clemmie tried to stop Sarah and Vic Oliver's relationship. He was 17 years older than her and Winston believed that Vic could not make Sarah happy, partly because he was far too self-centred. The couple eloped to New York and married in Christmas 1936.

Beginning in 1937, she took roles in comedy and musical films starring Vic Oliver, including Who's Your Lady Friend? and four years later, He Found a Star. Vic and Sarah actually split up in 1941, around the time of Star's release, and were divorced in 1945. Her performances in projects without him solidified her presence as an accomplished stage and screen actress.

President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with their daughters on the USS Quincy. February 2, 1945.

President Franklin Roosevelt and British Prime Minister Winston Churchill with their daughters on the USS Quincy. February 2, 1945.

War Work and Post War Career

In 1941, the second full year of the Second World War, Sarah joined the Women's Royal Auxiliary Air Force. She worked in photographic intelligence until the end of the bloodshed. She accompanied her father to the 1943 Tehran Conference and the 1945 Yalta Conference attended by US President Franklin Roosevelt and Soviet despot Joseph Stalin.

Her postwar career in London included stage performances in Gaslight (1946), Barretts of Wimpole Street (1948), and House of Sand (1949). She made her U.S. stage debut in 1949 in The Philadelphia Story as Tracy Lord. She followed this with Gramercy Ghost on Broadway (1951).

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On film, Sarah acted in the 1947 Italian melodramas Fatal Symphony and Daniele Cortis. All Over the Town followed in 1949 and her best remembered film role was as Anne Ashmond in the 1951 Hollywood musical, Royal Wedding, opposite Fred Astaire, Jane Powell, and Peter Lawford.

Alcoholism, Arrests and a Return to Acting

In 1949, Sarah married a photographer named Anthony Beauchamp. It was a tempestuous marriage. When Winston and Clemmie finally met Anthony they sensed that the marriage was doomed. Clemmie tried to be polite to her son-in-law, but Winston was quite content to ignore him. Six years later, Anthony and Sarah separated.

Two years after that, in 1957, Beauchamp died from an overdose of sleeping pills. Sarah found his loss excruciating and she developed a dependency on alcohol to cope with her pain. This brought her name into the news for the wrong reasons. A Churchill story was always in great demand and Sarah became tabloid fodder. She was arrested numerous times for disturbing the peace and was incarcerated in Holloway Prison, then the largest women's prison in Britain, for a short period.

Inevitably, her career suffered and it was not until 1958 that she made her return to the stage as Eliza Doolittle in Pygmalion. In 1959, she revived her film career in Serious Change, starring opposite Anthony Quayle. (In the U.S. it was released as A Touch of Hell and it marked the film debut of singer Cliff Richard).

Sarah Churchill as Anne Ashmond in the film "Royal Wedding" (1951).

Sarah Churchill as Anne Ashmond in the film "Royal Wedding" (1951).

Sarah Churchill: Keep on Dancing

There's a story that Winston and Clemmie attended a 1961 performance of As You Like It starring Sarah. Winston was so impressed by the occasion that he fell asleep and attracted the attention of the audience.

Sarah married Thomas (Henry) Touchet-Jesson, 23rd Baron Audley on the 26th April 1962. The Churchill old guard were possibly resigned to another disastrous experience, but this match appeared to be a happy, albeit brief one. On July 3, 1963, Henry passed away in Spain after suffering a heart attack. He was 49. Sarah did not marry again.

Sarah Churchill with Dutch radio and TV host, Willem Duys, 1971

Sarah Churchill with Dutch radio and TV host, Willem Duys, 1971

Sir Winston died in January 1965 and was given a state funeral. Clemmie survived him by 12 years. After countless appearances on stage, film, radio and television Sarah Churchill's last stage performance was given in 1971.

Sarah, like her father, was a keen painter later in her life and she found the activity fulfilling. In 1967, she wrote a short memoir focused largely on her father and a longer and candid autobiography was published in 1981 titled Keep on Dancing.

She died on September 24, 1982, after a long illness. Her funeral was carried out six days later and she was laid to rest with her parents and sister Marigold at St. Martin's Church in Bladon, Oxfordshire, near Blenheim Palace.

St. Martin's Church in Bladon where for centuries the Churchills (Spencer-Churchills) have been laid to rest.

St. Martin's Church in Bladon where for centuries the Churchills (Spencer-Churchills) have been laid to rest.

Sources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Joanne Hayle

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